Chatting to Charlie Andrew, producer of Alt-J’s debut album An Awesome Wave, (which bagged them a Mercury Prize) and their second album This is All Yours which went straight to number one, Audient gets the feeling that apart from being a thoroughly nice chap, he’s also one of those people who is genuinely passionate about everything he’s doing.
Currently that happens to be recording and producing the latest album for four-piece Mancunian band Money, cultivating his song-writing skills, drumming for his own band The Laurel Collective and co-organising the In The Woods festival.
Clearly there’s a lot going on for you at the moment (although this seems quite typical for you!) What do you like doing best?
I love it all, but to date I have been mainly focussing on production, although songwriting is coming into play in a big way now. At the beginning I focussed on production because I come from a background of engineering, so I took the logical step and then I moved into production.
Songwriting is something that has always fascinated me however, and an area I have really wanted to move into. It gets to the point where there’s a fine line between asking yourself: are you producing something or are you co-writing it?
ASP880: «they’re just beautiful pieces of kit»
Ooh, that’s interesting. Tell us more about your songwriting.
I’m mainly co-writing at the moment. If you’re co-writing, it’s interesting to see how sessions can happen in a variety of ways. I’ve been approached and people have approached me…they turn up, you meet for a cup of tea and say: “Right, let’s write a song!” The hardest thing is starting. Once you’ve got going then ideas just lead onto other ideas and actually by the end of the day you could have something that’s completely unrelated to what you started with.
I try and have lots of little fun toys around that I can introduce to whoever may come through the door, and see what may come of it. I recently bought an old 1979 vocoder which is an amazing thing. I plonked the artist in front of it and messed around with some chords whilst he was singing into it, and we got a cool little hook from that. You can just build from there – and that hook’s not even in the song we ended up with!
It’s those little toys that are fun, interesting and can lead to something else.
So how does your Audient ASP880 mic pre and ADC fit into this set up?
The Audient is really good for capturing these ‘toys’. The mic pres are very transparent, very clear, very low noise – they’re just beautiful pieces of kit. So I’ve actually got the old one [ASP008] and the new one, and use them in tandem; with the band that I’m working with at the moment that gives me 16 channels of Audient to use to capture the band. There are other bits of kit in addition to that, but these are amongst my go-to mic pres because they’re just so clean and transparent.
How did you hear about Audient originally?
ASP880: «these are amongst my go-to mic pres»
Are there any features that stand out as being particular favourites for you?
I’m a big fan of simplicity. Obviously it’s got phantom power (which you’d expect), the phase reverse, the low roll-off, the attenuating button and the AD – so there’s not too much to get you confused. The gain is basically pretty much all I put my hands on, and the phase buttons to make sure when I’m recording drums I can quite quickly flip phase and see if I’ve got phasing right. That’s good for me because I don’t want to spend ages having to fiddle with lots of different buttons.
Having the analogue to digital converters is a huge help, too. It gives you more options depending on what interfaces you’ve got going into ProTools (or whatever you’re using). We occasionally do location recording – in fact we’re going to go to a pub to record one of the Money songs on an upright piano to get a bit more atmosphere, which should be fun. For that sort of thing you need to have a very portable system. Having a 1U ‘interface’ with the mic pres and the converter, you can quite easily plug them into the back of something without having to lug a massive rig around. I’ll definitely be using the ASP880 for that.
Apart from in the pub, where does your recording usually take place?
The studio is in Brixton, I have a lease on a control room. There’s a communal live area with two control rooms; one’s bigger than the other and I’ve got the smaller of the two. Essentially, I rent an empty room and put my bits and bobs in it, but it’s all plumbed through to the shared live area. There’s a bookings diary for this, and I put my name all over it!
The handy thing is that I can use the other control room as a live space as well so if I’ve got a bigger band in (such as right now with Money) I have a vocal both, a piano room, a drum room and the other control room – so four spaces I can isolate from each other – and it works really well.
What would you say are the projects you’re most proud of to date?
That’s a really tough one. I’m very proud of them all – with each of them I try to get to the point where I’m as close to 100% satisfied as I can be, before I’m happy with it going out. I’d be lying if I said I was 100% satisfied with a record…..no record is ever finished!
What I’m happy with at the moment is the fact that I’m managing to do quite a broad spread of things, and I’m not pigeon-holing myself. For my own enjoyment, I don’t want to be doing the same thing over and over again and getting bored, so I try to keep it varied.
For example, the band I’m recording right now is completely the opposite to artists I’ve worked with in the past: it’s very live and raw. Marika Hackman’s album has just come out; I’m very proud of that and really very pleased with the sonic soundscape we’ve got. It’s a very warm sounding record and her voice is amazing. Then there’s Sivu, whose album came out in October; again another awesome talent and a really interesting voice.
I guess I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t love it all!
What’s coming up for you in the next few weeks/months that you can talk about?
For the next few weeks I’ll be continuing on this album for Money. [Better than working for nothing – haha] After that I’ll have my head down in the studio for the next six months or so – there are other things brewing but I can’t really talk about them as yet.
As far as the In The Woods festival goes, we’re taking a year off – the farm needs a bit of a break, and we need one too. I say break… we’re now working on pushing the digital side of it by building an In The Woods online presence. This will be an all year round digital platform creating a hub for all things new – not just music, but art, visuals and filmmaking too. There’s going to be an app that can keep you abreast of what’s going on.
We have a great team now – it’s not just me doing that. Thankfully we’ve set up an office here where I’m based so it’s really nice all of us being together working on that.
Another tough one! I take lots of inspiration from many different people. Someone who I’ve always thought has been successful in many different genres – whether it be in pop, hip hop, country or even chill-out acoustic music – is Beck. I’m a massive fan of Beck. I’m always really intrigued by every new record he brings out; I love them sonically, I love the songwriting as well and I just think he’s a true talent. So he is someone I look up to.
What tips would you give a younger version of yourself who’s just starting out?
The main thing is: don’t give up! The thing is, I went quite an odd route to get to where I am now.
Yes, I did 2 years at Abbey Road, but that was in amongst studying. The course I did [Tonmeister at the University of Surrey] has good ties with Abbey Road, so I started with a gap year there, then I went back for my placement year.
When I finished university though I went home and started teaching the drums to make some money. When I was earning enough from that, I moved back to London (and commuted back to continue teaching my pupils who were all in Kent) and co-rented a warehouse space in Shoreditch which was relatively cheap for what it was. I used it for rehearsals and all sorts – the great bonus was that I could make as much noise as I liked whilst being relatively central in town.
ASP880: «very transparent, very clear, very low noise»
At this point I had quite a basic system, and I started recording up there too. I was doing mobile recordings – absolutely anything I could do with it: recording school concerts and making CDs for them. I was also involved in a thing called Rock School down in Kent. Every summer holiday there’d be a week with a bunch of kids and they’d all make bands and I’d record the CDs and put it all together for them. Working with these kids – who tended to play rather ‘loosely’, shall we say – was a great education for me on how to do a few clever things to polish them up.
What a great way to pick up tricks for speedy recording – that must have come in handy along the way! You weren’t just recording kids, though?
I’m very fortunate as well to have some very talented friends around me: musicians who I’ve recorded and have helped me get better at my art, as they develop theirs. So we’ve done it all together …and not made any money out of it for a very long time!
I was very very fortunate to meet someone in a bar who introduced me to Alt-J (they’d just met in Leeds). I invited them to my warehouse to play and thankfully we got on and made some cool recordings …and the rest is history. That’s basically what’s helped put me on the producing map!
There were several times along the way during that five or six-year period where I thought to myself: “If I haven’t made at least a bit of money by this time next year…I’ll just have to use my education in a different way.” But I didn’t give up, and I got my lucky break.
So that would be my advice: don’t give up and have faith in yourself.
Would you say the same to all budding producers out there?
Sure, ultimately you are dependent on a bit of luck, but you can make your own luck to a certain extent. Or at least enhance it…
Audient reckons you are most deserving of your luck, Charlie. It’s been a pleasure chatting to you – may your future continue to be bright!